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The physical equivalent of an Informed Ability and often a subset of the Informed Flaw. A character who is not different in any discernible way from the rest of the cast is found by them to be freakish in some way that should normally be obvious to the audience.

Distinct from Take Our Word for It in that the sight the cast is reacting to is still actually shown. This can be done deliberately if you want to get all meta about it.

In animated series; eg. anime, it might be the result of Generic Cuteness. Hollywood Homely and Informed Attractiveness are subtropes. The inversion, where nobody notices a character's actual deformity, is an Unusually Uninteresting Sight.

A Sub-Trope of Show, Don't Tell. Also see Minor Injury Overreaction.

Examples of Informed Deformity include:

Anime & Manga

  • In Hayate the Combat Butler characters often say that Hayate looks "poor" or "seedy" but to the viewers he look pretty similar to the other characters--in fact he IS thought of as attractive when dressed as a girl.
  • Lina Inverse in Slayers is always teased for being flat. Though she does have a small bust size compared to the rest of the main females (all of whom have bust sizes that are well above average), today her's can be said to be decent compared to the completely flat Minami Iwasaki.
  • In an early story arc of Godchild, Viola wears a mask to hide her horrible deformity, which turns out to be a small acid burn marring an otherwise normal face. Justified in that she's completely insane.
  • Yura of Honey Hunt is mentioned by people around her, namely her teachers and peers, to be very plain. However, when she loses the glasses, fixes her hair and wears more flattering clothes she's actually quite attractive.
  • This trope and a case of Adaptational Attractiveness happens with Therru in Tales From Earthsea. In the book, Therru is hideously disfigured due to burns (in fact, on one hand her fingers have melted together, leaving her with something described as "a lobster claw"). Although the film still mentions how strange looking she is, her burns have been reduced to a faint pink splodge on her cheek that you have to squint to see properly.
  • In Naruto, Sakura is often said to have a very big forehead. However, when you compare it to the other characters, it's looks to be completely normal sized.
    • This is a result of art changes over the years. In the beginning of the manga, Sakura's forehead was indeed rather large.
    • Combine this with the occasionally Off-Model animation in the anime, and it becomes rather funny. At one point, a fan measured the foreheads of Sakura and Ino (the main person who mocks Sakura's forehead) and showed that Ino's was actually larger.
  • Sweden in Axis Powers Hetalia is said to be utterly terrifying. Prussia faints multiple times just looking at him. But he really doesn't look much different than most of the other characters.

Fan Works

  • In A Very Potter Musical and its sequel, Hermione gets this treatment. She's often called hideous, and is called a "night troll", though the actress is rather pretty in reality. Ginny gets the same treatment, being called "a butterface". In Hermione's case it's Played for Laughs, though.

Films — Animation

  • In the original Jimmy Neutron movie, the characters mocked Jimmy for being short. Never mind the fact that anyone can see that he's taller than all of them, although it's mostly thanks to his huge head.

Films — Live-Action

  • In the classic Gregory Peck film of To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom's badly mangled left hand from the book is changed to simply paralyzed, since makeup effects at the time were nowhere near good enough to simulate it. In the film, it's surprising, and has to be mentioned in court, but in the book Scout picks up on it as soon as she sees his hand.
    • The audience is shown, too. After all, Tom has to guide his hand onto the Bible in court, even if his arm appears physically fine.
  • In the 2004 version of The Phantom of the Opera, Erik (the Phantom) is described as having a face "so distorted, deformed, it was hardly a face". When the mask eventually comes off, however, his face is revealed to be little more than a bit lumpy.
  • Some feel that this is the case with Kyle in the movie adaptation of Beastly. In the book, he seems closer to the Disney Beast with fangs and claws and fur. His movie version looks closer to Nero from the 2009 Star Trek movie. Kyle's enforced isolation made sense when he was transformed into something literally inhuman (especially given his father's high-profile job as a newscaster), but will be harder to swallow with his film appearance which, while somewhat intimidating, wouldn't keep him from walking through Times Square without causing a reaction greater than a few raised eyebrows.
  • Played for laughs in-universe in the film Spy Game: Brad Pitt constantly mocks Robert Redford for being hideously ugly, but he's obviously just kidding.


  • Pretty much every single Cosmic Horror since Lovecraft spawned the trope has the Informed Deformity of a mind-bendingly horrifying appearance that usually isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Lovecraft himself usually got around this by never really describing the thing in question, although we're given a vague outline of Cthulhu's appearance. The one thing he does describe is the deformed Wilbur Whateley, but his appearance was only supposed to be quite disturbing (which it is, from the description), rather than instantly mind-shattering.
    • It's just as well, given that whenever Lovecraft tried to describe one of his own cosmic horrors he used so many adjectives that the result was laughable rather than terrifying. Seriously, 'rugose'?
    • The whole thing is pretty much a Flanderization from Lovecraft's actual works. While Lovecraft's protagonists indeed tended to go insane, it wasn't because of some innate property of the Horrors' appearances; it was simply from abject terror brought on by how overpowering the monsters were. The idea that just looking at one, without knowledge of what you were seeing, could have this effect mostly comes from the Call of Cthulhu RPG.
      • Well, in the story itself one of the two survivors who saw Cthulhu himself became a gibbering wreck and died of heart attack, while the other prematurely grayed and became a nervous wreck, even though neither of them had any idea of what they were seeing. Lovecraft often hints, for example in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward that his creatures have unnatural proportions that directly stimulate abject terror in the human brain without any rational cause. Still, most people who see them in his stories only lose their mind for seconds or minutes, before they are mostly all right, if deeply shaken and disturbed.
        • Cthulhu is psychic and thus may have purposefully broke their minds.
          • Also, Cthulhu is multiple miles long, and the telepathic broadcasts he constantly makes are very bad for the human mind. He's described as a moving mountain. Small wonder the survivors didn't take it well.
    • Fiction has desensitized us to monsters.
  • Done very disappointingly by Stephen King in IT. The eponymous monster, seen as a Monster Clown through most of the story, eventually turns out to be a giant spider. Comes with the standard "incomprehensible true form" trope.
    • Even the spider form is not actually said to be a spider form per se. What it says is that a huge, spider-like thing is the closest the protagonists can get to understanding what they're looking at.
  • In the original version of The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the whole point of people's reactions to Hyde is not of any deformity unto itself but the pure evil radiating from the man. Even a surgeon gets rattled by his appearance. He's actually rather unremarkable, other than being a bit on the small side — he's described as having the air of some unseen deformity rather than actually being deformed.
    • The comic version of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen actually acknowledges this. It's mentioned that Jekyll used to be a fairly big man, once, rather than the emaciated shell of a man he is now, while Hyde used to actually be small. The explanation provided is that without his darker half, Jekyll had no drive and could only waste away, while without the restraint provided by Jekyll, Hyde could only grow more wicked — and along with that, larger and more hideous, until he's more a monster than a man in the comics.

Live-Action TV

  • Something of a universal one that happens in sitcoms. Often the wife and mother in these shows is supposed to be an overworked, stressed woman of the Badly-Battered Babysitter variety, mentioning how she doesn't have time to go to the gym, put on makeup, sleep or even bathe in some cases. Usually the character is being played by a well-rested, well-made-up actress (who might be wearing sweatpants and a ponytail.)
  • In Blackadder the Third, frequent jokes are made about Prince George being massively overweight. While the real Prince Regent certainly was, Hugh Laurie clearly isn't.
  • Drake and Josh: Josh's head isn't that big.
    • Hell. If Josh Peck lost weight(which he DID do throughout the course of the series) bulked up a bit and got a decent haircut, he'd be FAR above Drake Bell in looks...
  • In I Claudius, Augustus's daughter Julia is described as being overweight, to the point where her husband Tiberius calls her a "fat drunken cow". Except that she is a fairly petite actress, and of a fairly similar build to Tiberius's first wife.
    • This was not an invention or an error. The historical Tiberius is said to have called Julia a fat cow - and she was fairly petite at the time.
  • Perhaps a stretch to call this a deformity, but on CSI, there has been more than one reference to Wendy Simms being big-breasted (or "clumsy yet buxom"), even though she's one of the least busty women in the cast, and in at least one case, the reference was made by a woman who was considerably bustier than Wendy (goes here rather than Informed Attractiveness because Wendy perceives the references to her bust as unflattering — and because her attractiveness is quite genuine).
  • Sé Lo Que Hicisteis: The myriad "shorty" jokes on Ángel's expense fall flat when you realize he's actually above-average height (albeit only by a little) and the other men in the cast aren't all that tall, either, yet they still threat him as if he only lacked the beard to be a dwarf.
  • In Arrested Development, George Michael's girlfriend Ann's plainness is constantly commented on by almost every character, although the actress playing Ann was actually fairly cute. Exacerbated by the fact that George Michael is played by Michael Cera, not the most attractive guy himself.
  • Parodied on Will and Grace, with both Karen and her "freakishly tinier boob" and her surprise sister Ginny, who has one leg slightly shorter than the other, thanks to a prank inflicted by Karen.
  • Liz Lemon's appearance is endlessly made fun of on "30 Rock". Liz Lemon is portrayed by Tina Fey.
  • Peggy Olson of Mad Men is repeatedly criticized and bullied for her appearance in the earlier seasons. Elizabeth Moss, and the character of Peggy for that matter, are at worst in the high range of average in appearance. To add to the irony, one of her main tormentors eerily resembles Pee-wee Herman.
  • On Sherlock, Mrs. Hudson is frequently mentioned to have a bad hip (she herself refers to it as "atrocious.") However, she doesn't use any kind of walking aid, has no visible limp, and seems to get up and down the stairs of 221B Baker Street with relative ease.

Tabletop Games

  • Shadowrun catches onto players exploiting this, encouraging GMs to award fewer or no bonus build points for characters taking disadvantages that don't actually influence their character's intended role. Examples include a quadriplegic virtual reality hacker, or a character taking an allergy to something there is no chance they will ever actually be exposed to.
    • This is a frequent problem for role playing games that allow players to take flaws for extra reward, but it's particularly bad in Shadowrun because so many flaws overlap each other. This means, for example, that you could make a combat oriented character who's never going to use the Hacking skill. Two flaws to his hacking skill would insure that he was actually incapable of hacking a computer, but it's entirely possible to stack several other bad at hacking flaws on him which effectively gives him the extra build points without taking an actual flaw. In other words, Min-Maxing.
      • The New World of Darkness system solved this problem with it's original approach to mechanical Flaws: instead of giving you bonus points during character creation, you are awarded extra Experience for every session in which your flaws have proved a severe hindrance. It's right there in the rules, making a "quadriplegic hacker", while still an interesting concept to play with, no more mechanically broken than any other character. Since his Flaw would almost never come up during gameplay, he'd just never get any extra Experience for it. This also makes sense "in-game": there's not much to be learned from not confronting your problems, after all.


  • There's a stage version of The Elephant Man where the lead is a totally normal guy without any alterations, he displays the deformity entirely via acting. It ranges from better than it sounds to utter Narm. The idea was to show it from his perspective, and he thinks of himself as normal.
  • Any given stage production of The Metamorphosis will combine this with Take Our Word for It. It's impossible to actually stage that book, but if a good enough actor plays Gregor, the audience will accept that okay, he's a giant bug.
    • Tim Roth succeeded in doing that in a production staged by Stephen Berkoff. It was helped by a set that allowed Roth to crawl across the ceiling, and when it happens it's quite unsettling.
  • Happens in some performances of The Producers where Bloom's cries of "Fat!" fall on their faces because the actor playing Bialystok has a regular build. One Bloom actor got around it by amending his rant to "once-fat".
    • In one performance they got around it by having Bloom call Bialystok "skinny!" instead.
  • In Romeo and Juliet, it seems that Mercutio actually has a bad self-image. When putting on a mask prior to the Masquerade Ball, his dialogue suggests he thinks he's so ugly he needs it:

 "Give me a case to put my visage in:

A visor for a visor! what care I

What curious eye doth quote deformities?

Here are the beetle brows shall blush for me.

    • He may just be joking, as he usually is. At any rate, he's almost always played by actors who are at least average-looking.
    • The actor who originally played Mercutio may have been scarred from smallpox.
  • Happens frequently in productions of Richard III; although everyone in the play (including Richard himself) goes on a great deal about his deformity, it's often downplayed in terms of costuming and physical acting. This is partly because the play also emphasizes Richard's talent for (medieval) warfare, and partly because it's a long play and the part is notorious for crippling actors.
  • Similarly, in Henry V King Henry makes a speech to Katherine apologizing for his appearance, explaining that his father was thinking of civil wars when he was conceived, and so he was born with a face to frighten enemies. Yet of course Henry is typically very handsome-looking on stage.
  • In The Secret Garden, Archibald is supposedly a cripple, and it's referenced quite a few times, but it can be hard to see his deformity. He's apparently a hunchback, but in this troper's high school production, at least, the hump was so small that at the end of the 6th grade performance, we took questions from the kids and one went "How is he crippled? I don't get it".
  • In Uncle Vanya, Sonya is described as "plain" (plain enough that the women at her church pity her and her step-mother can only say she has lovely eyes), but the actresses playing her range from average to gorgeous.

Video Games

  • Final Fantasy X suffered from this. Willing Suspension of Disbelief is hard to maintain when you're being told that a character is blushing or has "bed hair"... and all the while they're onscreen in beautifully-rendered full detail and looking exactly the same as always.
    • It gets even worse in the sequel, where Lulu is pregnant enough for the majority of the game that Wakka thinks she might give birth any moment (though she does say it's not that far), but her model is exactly as it appeared in the original game, corset and all. They also draw attention to Wakka's newly-acquired stomach pudge. Despite this, his abs (which his outfit clearly showcases) look as hard and devoid of fat as they always did.
      • Lulu does have a bulge if you look VERY closely, but she barely looks five months in. Must be the smallest baby ever.
    • Rikku also calls Wakka "tubby" and implies that he's getting out of shape. Guess what? He hasn't visibly changed one bit.
  • Saber from Fate/stay night bluntly says that her body must look ugly to men thanks to it being overly muscled. The problem is, she has the body of a (very) skinny fifteen-year-old girl, which can be clearly seen as the whole scene takes place in a bath. She also adds that Rin has a nice and young feminine body, unlike her — but Rin is actually physically older and taller, and if anything, has a more muscular build than Saber. Saber looks exactly the same in flashbacks to her previous life, too (according to FSN-mythos, she stopped aging when she first got her sword).
  • For some reason, Neku from The World Ends With You is apparently not as well-dressed as his peers. Never mind the fact that he looks just as stylized and cool as the rest of the cast. The clothes his sprite is depicted as wearing throughout the game are a matching set from Jupiter of the Monkey — but, it should be noted, the flavor text for the Dharma shirt says that Neku practically wears the same thing every day.
  • Viva Pinata has the Pigxie species, which everyone treats as a horribly deformed freak of nature. While "freak of nature" is technically correct (you get them by crossbreeding two different species that should not normally be able to romance), they are, appearancewise, perfectly normal flying pigs.
    • They have a somewhat twisted face and mismatched wings that give them a gimpy flight pattern. They're still adorable though.
  • Brigid Tenenbaum from the first Bioshock game is stated to have greasy hair, wear grubby clothes and be unusually tall and thin. While she doesn't have a unique model in-game, you'd never guess from her radio portrait.
  • A number of characters in the Jak and Daxter series comment on how ugly Daxter is (in both forms), some even going as far as calling him "the little annoying miserably ugly one". As a human, he's gangly and has buck teeth, but otherwise is not much different from the rest. As an ottsel, he simply looks like a Mix and Match Critter, which luckily Tess thinks is awfully cute.
  • In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, the characters comment on how old Lotus is. She's 40 and doesn't really "look" old. Though you could argue that the ones who comment on it the most (Junpei, Santa, and Seven) are simply doing with it to mess with her. Junpei actually seems a bit... overwhelmed by her presence when he first meets her, and at one point June laments that she knows guys would prefer someone who looks like Lotus over herself.

Web Animation

  • Common in Homestar Runner's Teen Girl Squad, thanks to its stick-figure art. The Ugly One isn't that much uglier than the other girls. Of course, in her case, she compensates by being unhygienic and generally offputting as well.
    • It's pretty clear that the unhygienic and offputting attitude are what causes it if you remember the episode in which it's revealed that She Cleans Up Nicely.

Web Comics

  • Davan MacIntire from Something Positive has induced Meg-level horror (in some VERY shallow people, admittedly), but is not substantially uglier than the average cast member. And there are some truly horrific looking cast members. Of course, this is very likely to be intentional, considering how much of a Sadist Show S*P is.
  • Luna of Dominic Deegan is convinced that her little tusks are a deformity — which they technically are — and that they make her look hideous. They really don't, though a whole lifetime of her family systematically convincing her that they are will do that to a person.
    • She has been showing signs of getting over this, though. Getting in with folks like the Deegans and making a life for herself on her own skill can do that to a girl.

Western Animation

  • Blackarachnia does this (overlapping with Hollywood Homely) for the first two seasons of Transformers Animated. Several Autobots find her attractive and the rest seem to pay her appearance no mind, but she constantly harps on her status of being technoorganic and hideous. Then in season three that mask she's been wearing comes off and oh dear lord. Not to mention that we get Sentinel trying to kill her for what she is.
  • South Park had a character who was supposedly the "ugly child" in school, but actually looked like everyone else.
    • They also did this in the first Terence and Phillip episode ("Not Without My Anus") with Ugly Bob, a character who was treated as horrifyingly ugly despite the fact that he looked like every other Canadian on the show.
      • He returned in the episode "Royal Pudding", and this time his supposed ugliness caused a monster to turn into stone.
    • Then there was the episode where Cartman went to jail. Most of the kids are drawn with exactly the same shape except for their facial features, clothes, and hair, with Cartman being the only one who is physically larger than any other kid. After Cartman goes away, the kids unanimously decide Clyde is the fattest one left and start calling him "fatass" and the like.
    • In one episode the girls make a list that ranks the boys from cutest to ugliest, and Kyle happens to be at the bottom, even thought he looks just like any other kid (the list later turned out to be manipulated) then, everyone starts treating him as if he is ugly to the point that he wants to burn down the school.
  • In Invader Zim, everyone says that Dib's head is freakishly huge, but it looks the same size as anyone else's head. Of course, the characters who claim that his head is big are usually the same ones who actually believe that Zim's green skin and lack of ears is a skin condition, so they're not exactly masters of perception.
    • Executive Meddling brought this on. Dib apparently needed something "funny" about him. It would seem that the Nick execs had never heard of a Straight Man.
      • Executive Meddling may have brought it on, but the DVD commentaries show that the people who worked on the show loved the joke.
  • This happens with Meg from Family Guy numerous times, as the other characters often treat her as horrifically ugly despite her being relatively normal looking. Some characters have even gone so far as to douse themselves with gasoline and light themselves on fire whenever she approaches. She's also mistaken for a boy several times, despite having a clearly female chest. Meg is a very blatant Butt Monkey, however, so this may just be a part of that.
    • In "Peter-assment", Peter's boss Angela is so ugly that Quagmire wouldn't do her, yet she looks completely normal, and in fact is better looking than Rene Russo, who's shown in a cutaway gag to be an ugly one-toothed pockmarked hick.
    • Meg's implied hideousness may actually be a covert joke on the fact that she is voiced by Mila Kunis, who is ridiculously attractive.
    • This is hilariously inverted when she suddenly becomes "hot" as a result of doing nothing more than bleaching her hair and wearing revealing clothing.
  • Hayley from American Dad! constantly says this sort of thing about her brother Steve, but there is nothing that would imply it. She doesn't like him that much, so she might be saying it just to annoy him.
  • The Simpsons: Homer Simpson at times. He's obviously fat, bald and unshaven, but the show is inconsistent over characters calling attention to it. Marge is shown to find him attractive despite his flaws. It probably is because Homer would be attractive (for the show) if he took better care of himself. An early episode had Homer grow his hair and dress nicely, and Patty and Selma were stunned at his looks. Herb Powell is Homer with hair and no pot belly, and he's also pretty attractive in-universe.
    • Even his fatness, to some degree, isn't that great; he's 239 pounds and fairly tall.
      • The numbers aren't terrible, but in practice, the bottom two thirds of his torso practically form a perfect sphere.
    • While Moe Szylak is quite odd-looking compared to other characters, people act like he's hideous and even inhuman.
      • His Perpetual Frowner expression and Jerkass behavior only seem to amplify the problem. His appearance is downplayed in the few episodes where he's actually pleasant.
  • Jay Sherman from The Critic is constantly described as being very ugly and morbidly obese. However, overall he's fairly normal looking. He's just short, balding, and chubby.

Real life

  • The "eta" or "burakumin" race in Japan, which has NO difference from the other social castes.